Tlali: Monumental controversies in Mexico | United States

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Monument to Christopher Columbus made by the artist Charles Cordier in 1877.

A new sculpture named “Tlali”, representing the head of an indigenous woman, is expected to replace a monument dedicated to Christopher Columbus on Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City. For decades, Christopher Columbus has occupied a pedestal on the capital’s main avenue, and his impeachment is just the most recent episode in a controversy that has sparked heated debate in Mexico and many other countries. . The question that arises: what and who should commemorate the public spaces of our cities? Who deserves to be dedicated in the eternal form of a statue and who should be removed once their reputation fades over time? What do the sculptures that adorn our avenues, our roundabouts and our parks say about our identity? And do the statues serve any purpose besides being a landing point for pigeon droppings and a point of reference for taxi drivers?

These busts and monuments are not as trivial as they seem – they appear in all recorded civilizations. The gods, heroes, kings and conquerors are popular, but also rebellious and rebellious, or characters considered admirable for their genius or their kindness. All of them have been celebrated in wood, stone or metal over the years. Other statues highlight abstractions or symbols that remind societies of their origins, aspirations or achievements. We could think of beauty, freedom, patriotism, motherhood, purity and hard work – all of them have been cast in bronze. The paradox arises when the needs of the moment and the aspiration for permanence collide.

Statues don’t just pop out of the ground and therefore can never be neutral, like a tree or a hill. A place is chosen and the statue is paid for, in an attempt to represent the dominant ideas of a certain era. But ordinary citizens do not have the time, money or – generally speaking – the desire to erect them on their own, so they tend to become a symbol of the opinions and interests of governments and nation states, who simply claim to interpret the will of the citizens. .

If we did an opinion poll, wouldn’t we run the risk of ending up with a giant Baby Yoda, instead of a patriotic figure?

Mexico is full of busts honoring patriotic heroes and erected by successive governments. Thanks to the brand of nationalism trumpeted by the Institutional Revolutionary Party [which led Mexico from 1929 to 2000], every town and village in the country has one or more statues of Benito Juárez, Miguel Hidalgo, José María Morelos and Lázaro Cárdenas. You could say that they are more or less established characters in the popular imagination and that no one expects them to be demolished. But there are dozens of them with a much narrower claim to consensus. General García Barragán, for example, who was Secretary of Defense at the time of the Tlatelolco massacre in 1968 and whose likelihood is usually stained with blood-red paint.

Those who argue that Mexicans do not feel represented by Columbus today, and who view him as a dubious or nefarious figure as a forerunner in the conquest and colonization of the Americas, are probably right. But what would citizens want to put in his place? The colossal head of Tlali, a supposedly Olmec woman who bears a Nahuatl name? If we did an opinion poll, wouldn’t we run the risk of ending up with a giant Baby Yoda, instead of a patriotic figure?

It is impossible not to think about the history of the Caballito (the little horse), the equestrian statue of King Charles IV of Spain, sculpted by the great Manuel Tolsá. It spent over a century on Paseo de la Reforma until it was decided in the 1970s that there was no reason to honor the foreign king from the colonizers. But we Mexicans, geniuses that we are, have found a solution worthy of our historical confusion: the Caballito has been preserved “out of respect for art”, but in another, less conspicuous place. It was replaced by a reinterpretation of the monument, a new metal Caballito, full of curves but at the same time angular, and without a mounted king. I don’t know anyone who likes this second Caballito, but at least taxi drivers can still use it as a point of reference …

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